24 October 2010

New plastic holds promise of cheaper solar panels

Solar panels for use in long-term applications (generating energy for decades on roofs, say) are both stiff and heavy because they use glass to admit light but keep out water. But word comes now that a new plastic has the durability of glass but is lighter and flexible. The new plastic, from 3M, should last 20 to 25 years, the company says, according to a great report in MIT's Technology Review. The clear implication is that solar panels may soon be cheaper and require less energy to deliver.

18 October 2010

California looks to regulate toxic ingredients in consumer products

There's an initiative in California to "mandate new regulations limiting toxic ingredients in a wide variety of consumer products," according to a news release sent to me. The new regs are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, and there's a public meeting for comments from stakeholders set for Nov. 1.

California's Department of Toxic Substances Control new "Green Chemistry" regs will "require companies to analyze the raw materials of their products and their potential toxicity through their entire life cycle.  The regulations, which reflect an entire movement, seek to minimize a product’s impact on human health, the environment and natural resources."

And as is often the case, as goes California, so goes the country. That is, the wider impact of the regulations will likely be felt in markets and by manufacturers far outside state lines. For more information, the news release recommends Peter Hsiao, an environmental and clean tech attorney in Los Angeles with Morrison & Foerster. (You might recognize Morrison & Foerster as the wild and crazy law firm that likes to be known as MoFo.com.)

10 October 2010

Lowe's: Three green steps forward, one step back

In September, number two home improvement giant Lowe's announced it was rolling out its Energy Center concept nationwide, and putting recycling centers in every store as well. The Energy Centers are an  in-store gathering of energy-efficient products, while the recylcing centers let customers bring in rechargeable batteries, cell phones, compact fluorescent lights, and plastic bags. 

And this month, the EPA named Lowe's its WaterSense Partner of the Year for the second year in a row; Lowe's is the first retailer to be tapped two years running.

But in Salem, Mass., environmentalists are attacking the company's plans for a new store.

06 October 2010

Skyscraper retrofit

Very interesting details on the greening of the Empire State Building:
A sweeping $13.4 million energy retrofit is slashing the Empire State Building’s energy consumption by nearly 40 percent and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 105,000 metric tons over the next 15 years while trimming $4.4 million from annual energy costs.

02 October 2010

Farmers markets for friend and faux

Local farm markets are eco-friendly on several fronts. They generally use less pesticide, so they are less polluting. They bring food to consumers over tens or hundred of miles, not thousands — that decreases the carbon impact of shipping produce from other states and continents. Indie farmers are more likely to grow heirloom varieties, not monocultures bred for transport and consistency of appearance over taste — that increases biodiversity and resistance to plant disease.

More to the point, customer awareness of these issues is rising, and consumer demand for organic produce is on the rise. So, attracted to the higher prices that organics can now demand, farmers' markets are on the upswing. And so are con artists hoping to cash in on the trend.

NBC News' LA team took a look at farmers markets recently, and found that some farm market vendors are buying wholesale non-organic produce and reselling it as "organic." In some cases, the "farm" in question were just fields of weeds. NBC offered three tips for identifying true farmers at your local market:
  • Try to get to know a few vendors really well. Ask where their farm is located, how long they've been farming, how they handle pest and disease issues. See if they're listed on sites like LocalHarvest -- not all farmers are, but it doesn't hurt to check. Ask them the specific variety of whatever produce they're selling. If they really grew it, they should be able to tell you that those are 'Emerite' filet beans, not just "green beans."
  • Look over the display. Really look. This is a great tip from Homegrown Evolution. Are all of the tomatoes the exact same shape and size? Do the apples have that waxy supermarket look? Are the cucumbers all perfectly uniform? Are they selling "local" watermelon in Detroit during the first week of May? If so, they probably went to the warehouse club and bought produce to sell at a premium at the farmer's market. Steer clear.
  • Know what's in season! If you see watermelon in April or peppers in December in Minnesota or Michigan, chances are good that they have not been grown locally. While some farmers have large heated greenhouses to grow produce year-round, not all do, and it pays to ask questions if the vendor is displaying a lot of out-of-season produce.
And here's another sign that there's a buck to be made selling faux organic produce: Supermarkets are setting up "Farmers Markets" in their parking lots!